“Petrichor” — stanza excercise


And if I were to lose my only name—
Here there is the scent of cigarette smoke infused into the core
of wooden benches.
It is as sweet and subtle as the Earth after rain. Call me nothing now
except after-rain: I exist beneath your wrinkled nose for just a moment; there
and then forgotten.
From here, your letters set your shoulder bones down deep into the center of your back.
They are the vessel for your arrogant laughter, traversing vast
distances. This is the one thing I expect of you:
avert your eyes from these benches (against this wall) as you pass them.
I see you walk the perimeter of your name,
a beetle around the inside edge of a glass—but this is not
my place. It’s time again to walk in line.

There are two hyphens in this poem, each revealing a significant shift in perspective and place. Each hyphen incites a strong break in the reading: the shifts are especially emphasized this way, because each break makes the last few words into an iamb and an anapest, respectively (“-ly name” and “of a glass”). If the syllabic emphasis were to fall instead of rise, the resultant sound would create more of a “finish” at the end of the line, and the transitions would be less jarring.
The first and last lines of this poem (the lines immediately before and after the hyphens), are written in iambic pentameter. The juxtaposition of the metered rhythm outside of the hyphens, and the lack thereof inside the hyphens, ties in directly with the poem’s theme of barriers. The strict form of iambic pentameter represents the strictness of the social limits imposed upon those who exist, per se, outside of the location to which the speaker makes his/her sudden transition. Only when the speaker leaves her familiar world is she able to express herself freely—in free-form verse. Suddenly, the lines are unmetered and often enjambed. In fact, as the character in the poem capitalizes on his newfound freedom of expression, the form of the poem does the same: enjambment effectively emphasizes certain words. Such terms include “the core”, “distances”, “except”, and “my place”. Each of these terms deepens the theme of social barriers, which are known to establish surface interactions, “distances” between people, and the confinement individuals to their specified “place.” Clearly, diction plays a significant role in relaying the poem’s message. In addition to the aforementioned terms, the repetition of “name” serves to highlight the restrictive nature of social barriers. (Use of a “name” is the most basic societal method of defining, and therefore limiting, other individuals.) The plural noun “Letters” is used as a double entendre, referring to the letters of someone’s name, but also a person’s Greek letters. The speaker is therefore using campus sororities and fraternities as examples of self-limiting social institutions.
The poem’s imagery further deepens this message about the restrictive nature of socialized labels. For example, the image of the beetle skirting “the inside edge of a glass” shows how the speaker, as a result of his/her heightened perspective, sees the others as trapped—less literally than metaphorically, as they are trapped within “the perimeter of [their] name.” The olfactory imagery of the “after-rain,” in conjunction with the title “petrichor” which can be taken literally to mean “the smell of the Earth after a rainfall“, relates the nature of petrichor to the nature of social constructs. Both are ever-present forces that become, over time, less noticed by the individual. Just as one gets used to the smell of after-rain, one loses awareness of his/her socialized existence—that is, until he/she can momentarily escape from it.

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